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The Disconnect Between Who You Are and What You Do — Getting the Message Right

Who you are and why you do what you do is far more important to your message than what you do or how you do it.

“Time discovers truth.”
                         —Seneca

If you’re like me, you see dozens of articles every week that prescribe ways for advisors to more effectively get their message across to prospects. Well, here’s another one.

This one will be different in two ways, though. It will not offer answers, but rather a frame of reference for crafting your message. And, like all good marketing, it will be short and simple.

Here it is. Start by looking inside yourself. Who you are and why you do what you do is far more important to your message than what you do or how you do it.

The heart of the problem is twofold. First, what you do is hard to differentiate from what other advisors do. Yes, you may offer financial planning while some of your competition does not. But chances are, for every service you offer, thousands of other advisors offer it too.

Many marketing articles tell you to fight through this problem and find something in your service offering to distinguish you. This is bad advice. You are unlikely to find a differentiator in your service offering that is meaningful to prospects (i.e., the people you are trying to engage). 

If you have such a differentiator, use it, but don’t stretch to find one. In doing so you will lose credibility, confuse your audience and/or look desperate. “My financial plans are way, way better than anyone else’s, trust me on this.” “Our tactical ETF strategy uses a disciplined, holistic, institutional, quant-driven, risk-on/risk-off approach based on the research of 24 Nobel Prize winners.” Save yourself the time, effort and ultimate embarrassment.

The second problem that arises when advisors look outside of themselves to craft their message is that it loses genuineness. Your mission becomes figuring out what you think clients want and then feeding them a message that is your version of what they want to hear. 

There are hundreds of articles and studies about what clients want from their financial advisors. The conclusions of these surveys are often inconsistent. If you use them as your communications guide, you’ll be zigging and zagging like a sailboat looking for the wind.

These surveys do not all measure the same things. Sometimes the results show the qualities that clients want in an advisor (integrity, responsiveness), and other times they show the services that clients want from their advisor (help me maximize returns, knowledge about the tax consequences of investing). The results are a confusing mishmash of apples and oranges.

Another source of confusion for advisors is what I call the “Greek alphabet studies.” These are the studies done by firms like Envestnet (“Capital Sigma”), Vanguard (“Advisor’s Alpha”) and Morningstar (“Gamma”) that attempt to quantify the value added by financial advisors. These studies are worthwhile, but not as messaging guides.

The Greek alphabet studies can lead to a chain of thought that goes something like this: “I am an evidence-based advisor. The evidence shows that my Sigma/Alpha/Gamma is generated through asset allocation, rebalancing, tax-loss harvesting, etc. I will tell my prospects in no uncertain terms how good I am at all these things and I will show them visually (a picture is worth a thousand Gamma points) with colorful pies, graphs and other proof statements. They will immediately grasp my incredible, well-documented value.”

Instead, when you craft your messaging to prospects, start by looking in the mirror. Ask yourself two questions. “Why am I in this business” and “what problems am I trying to solve.”

Why you do what you do is personal to you. There is bound to be uniqueness in your story. If you tell it well, prospects will feel the fire and connect with you on an emotional level.

Once they understand your “why,” what you do will have context. The problems you are trying to solve will be seen as the natural extension of your beliefs, not just a lifeless list of services. Simon Sinek showed the power of this approach in his book, Start with Why

One benefit of this approach is that your message doesn’t change every time a new study comes out or someone adds a new Greek letter to the alphabet studies. It is genuine. 

Another benefit is that you will draw the right prospects to your firm. Not everyone will relate to your story. But for those that do, you will stand out in the sea of sameness, jargon and pomposity they so often encounter. They may even give you a call?

Scott MacKillop is CEO of First Ascent Asset Management, a Denver-based TAMP that provides investment management services to financial advisors and their clients. He is an ambassador for the Institute for the Fiduciary Standard and a 40-plus-year veteran of the financial services industry. He can be reached at [email protected]

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